These companies have the capability to shut down any idea, person, story or company out of alignment or in competition with them.
Following the January 6 Capitol violence and incitement controversy, Twitter, Facebook and other platforms simultaneously banned Former President Donald Trump. In addition, Parler, an up-and-coming platform that did not follow this trend, was removed from Google Play and the Apple App store and then completely from the internet when Amazon’s hosting services took down the website. Within only four days, the president of the United States was entirely banished from modern day conversation channels.
The populous’ reactions were mixed, but almost all overemphasized Trump’s significance in this social media power display. His supporters called this a violation of free speech. His opposition either applauded the event or made the private company “freedom of speech” argument.
What is most disturbing about these events has less to do with Trump or free speech and more to do with power. This instance did not create the problem but exposed an unchecked power structure with united ideals controlling the primary outlet of conversation in the modern world. These companies have the capability to shut down any idea, person, story or company out of alignment or in competition with them.
Social media platforms should have terms of service. Platforms need the ability to remove content like death threats and pornography. Amazon’s argument for removing Parler was released in a statement saying that significant content “encourages and incites violence against others, and that Parler is unable or unwilling to promptly identify and remove this content.” Twitter and Facebook both remain on Amazon’s server despite #hangmikepence trending on Twitter at the time of this previous statement. In addition, there are countless tweets that explicitly call for violence relating to the summer riots. As this standard is not applied uniformly, these events resemble cartel activity.
In October, Twitter suspended many accounts and deleted posts that spoke on the Hunter Biden scandal. Also, after Nov. 3, content questioning election integrity or claiming voter fraud was either taken down or masked with a false, partial or disputed information sign. Social media companies should make these claims impartially. Why could Nancy Pelosi tweet, “Our election was hijacked. There is no question,” in 2017 without Twitter covering her tweet in a “disinformation” claim? Should Twitter be able to decide what people are allowed to discuss and what they must accept without question? Why do oppressive regime leaders like Xi Jinping or terrorist supporters like Ayatollah Khamenei continue to have free reign on these platforms?
Parler’s takedown exposed the inexistence of a free market for information sharing. It had no chance against the multibillion dollar companies it was up against. The capitalist argument of “if you don’t like something, just make your own” cannot apply when there is no possible chance at competition. These companies can work together as a cartel ruling like a tyrannical government. They already have proven that they hold more power than the United States government.
Parler is now working to reemerge online through another web host, something difficult and possibly fatal for the company. Even if it becomes partially resolved, people should not regard this as a one-time, isolated event. No matter a person’s political opinion, thinking through where unchecked power over information and discussion could lead to provides valuable perspective on this entire situation.